Baseball Widows, and Major Pettigrew, Connect Through Shared Losses

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 08 October 2012

As baseball season comes to a close, here’s a delightful story from a few weeks ago, about Mary Frances Veeck, 91, and her dear friend Wyonella Smith, also 91. The two women, whose five-decade friendship was built on the careers and subsequent loss of their husbands (both of whom are honored in the Hall of Fame for their notable achievements in baseball), spoke to writer Ben Strauss from their Chicago retirement home. Read the full article from The New York Times here.

About the men: Wendell Smith “took on baseball’s racial barriers as a sportswriter in Pittsburgh and in Chicago” and Bill Veeck “wreaked humorous havoc as an owner of three teams but was also instrumental in integrating the sport 65 years ago.” Both Veeck and Smith died of cancer, within six years of each other.

About the women, their widows: “They can, it should be noted, also banter like ballplayers.” The women met in Bill Veeck’s “Hall of Femme,” a place for baseball wives and female fans to gather and socialize while the men played or enjoyed the game, respectively.

Not only is it a wonderful account of baseball’s history and the powerful mark that Veeck and Smith left on it, the article is a beautiful testament to the power of a lasting friendship. Both women have experienced other great losses since their husbands’ passings, and their bond has been a source of strength and encouragement. It’s also the reason why they chose to move into the same retirement home in Chicago.

We need more stories like Veeck and Smith’s, don’t we? I don’t just mean positive stories about real people, and notable historic happenings, but positive stories about generations of friendship, about connecting through shared losses, and about having someone in your corner, always. Though I often emphasize the value of intergenerational friendships on the blog, I’ve realized that friendships with peers are equally essential, and especially so for seniors who may have few surviving family members and friends.

This realization was affirmed by the Times article, but also by the novel I’m currently reading. It’s about a new and unlikely friendship (that may eventually blossom into romance) among a widow and widower who feel alone and lonely even as they live among family and friends. Though a fictional story, Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a realistic though bittersweet portrayal of the need for a good friend in one’s later years, particularly after losing a spouse or close relative who was a confidant and pal. The story is also about aging, traditions, family, and culture, and Simonson’s style is witty, engaging, warm and contains quite a bit of social commentary much like the works of the celebrated Jane Austen.

What strikes me about the book is how difficult the generation gap can be for many seniors: for example, Major Ernest Pettigrew struggles with his cell-phone using, weekend cottage-buying, materialistic son, Roger, and his equally materialistic, overly casual and completely mannerless American girlfriend — making the case for a peer of common mind even stronger.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I already give my hearty recommendation of it — especially if, like me, you love a story with a strong elder as the lead character. I also think that no matter how old you are, having a person who understands you is one of life’s necessities…and a rich blessing too.



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